Next, US must foster peace
By H.D.S. Greenway, 3/28/2003

THE ROOTS OF America's problems in the Arab world lie ''buried in the soil of misunderstanding that divides Islam from the West - the dirt of hostility, envy, and humiliation that has been drifting through the Arab house for centuries. To many Arabs, the United States is a blustering bully, the corrupter of corrupt sheiks; not just the protector of Israel, but the power that keeps Israel, in the Arab view, an aggressive regional superpower that threatens all its neighbors and beats up on Palestinians.''

The most depressing thing about those two sentences is that the situation is almost everywhere worse than when I wrote them 12 years ago during the first Gulf war. Today, after 9/11, every schoolchild has had to learn about the misunderstandings that divide Islam and the West, and the problem has grown geographically as well as quantitatively. Today, it is Muslim anger, not just Arab anger, that has spread around the world, reaching into all the Muslim lands from the Atlantic to the Celebes Sea. And today it is not just Islam that views America as a blustering bully. The United States has squandered much of the good will that flowed to it in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Today, all the Arab streets are more anti-American than they were 12 years ago, as are European and Asian streets. All the Arab governments are less stable than back then. The Palestinians are a hundred times more miserable and repressed, and the Israelis are far less secure and well off then they were 12 years ago, even though Scuds were raining down. And, as Arab journalist Rami Khouri so aptly said, it isn't the Arab street that is the big worry anymore. It is the ''Arab cellar,'' where young men have gone to plot their violent revenge.

I have ever-growing shelves of books written since that first Gulf War with titles such as ''The Clash of Civilizations,'' ''The Paradox of American Power,'' ''The Age of Terror,'' ''How Did This Happen,'' and ''What Went Wrong?'' The present Gulf war isn't going to make this country's overall standing in the world better in the short run, but there are things we can do when the war is over to begin redressing what has gone wrong for the United States.

With Iraq, the United States should be true to its word to stay in as long as is necessary and get out as soon as it can. What is needed is a new government that can gain the consent of the governed, achieve stability, and pave the way for eventual democracy. The idea that Iraq should be ruled by an American General MacArthur figure, as Japan was, and made over into our image is a chimera. Postwar Iraq will not be like post-WWII Germany and Japan, it will be more of a post Cold War Yugoslavia, as has been pointed out, full of ethnic tensions and religious divides. If the United States plans to stay in Iraq until it is a Western-style democracy, our great grandchildren will be doing occupation duty in Baghdad.

The more the Americans can internationalize its occupation the better. It would be a mistake to underestimate Iraqi nationalism, Arab pride, and xenophobia. A too-long occupation will end up with the Americans in the same place the Israelis found themselves in Lebanon in the 1980s.

The United States should forgo the dreams of the administration hawks to use Iraq to force other regime changes in the region. The United States and the West can help bring less repressive government and democratic reforms by persuasion and example, not on the point of bayonets.

This country should work with the Saudis to remove American troops from Saudi soil, which is what the Saudis want. ''Over the horizon'' was for years the doctrine for American power in Arabia, until the first Gulf war. The idea is to have American power off stage, rather than in the Saudi face.

The United States should try to ameliorate tensions with Iran, not exacerbate them as the administration hawks would do. Iran is in transition toward democracy already, and the best way to snuff that out is to interfere.

The most important thing the Bush administration can do is to move quickly and decisively to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bush has advocated a Palestinian state and has committed the United States to the road map drawn up by the ''quartet'': Europe, Russia, the United States, and the UN. Until now Bush has been very reluctant to push forward. Only under great pressure from his two Gulf allies, the British and the Spanish, did Bush agree to even the most conditional progress.

So far, the administration has swallowed the Likud Party line of Ariel Sharon, who believes that if you hit the Palestinians hard and long enough they will eventually give up. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to figure out that several of Bush's most prominent hawks have close ties to the Likud. But Sharon's narrow view of what kind of a state the Palestinians can be allowed will never work.

Secretary of State Colin Powell understands that. He told an international audience in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year that the Palestinians must have a real state, ''not a phony state diced into a thousand pieces.'' But Powell has lost before in the bureaucratic wars, especially when it comes to Israel, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refers to Israel's military rule as a ''so-called'' occupation.

Al Qaeda may not give a fig for the Palestinians, but there is no single deed that America could accomplish to calm the sea of anger in the Muslim world, and to reestablish our standing in much of the world beyond, than to bring about a fair compromise between Israel and the Palestinians.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.